Pundit Central

Nader: Spoiler or Savior?

Issue 1 is the Justice Department’s debate over a possible independent counsel to investigate Al Gore’s campaign-finance testimony. Issue 2 is Ralph Nader’s impact on the presidential race.

Most pundits–including conservatives such as Bill Kristol (NBC’s Meet the Press) and Kate O’Beirne (CNN’s Capital Gang)–think that Attorney General Janet Reno should not appoint an independent campaign-finance investigator in an election year. Even those who wanted Reno to appoint one a year or two ago now think that the election should decide the issue. (Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is not so charitable: Since the delay in appointing an investigator is the Democrats’ fault, he says, the Democrats deserve an election-year investigation.) Other talking heads, such as Fred Barnes (Fox News Sunday) and Michael Barone (The McLaughlin Group), think an investigation would be fruitless, since there is no evidence to hang Gore with. Among the pro-investigation pundits is Robert Novak (CG), who notes that it’s not just GOP politicians who want an investigation–it’s career Justice Department officials too. Charles LaBella (FNS and CNN’s Late Edition), a former DOJ campaign-finance investigator, wants an investigation into the original campaign-finance abuses instead of into Gore’s apparent cover-up, as is being proposed now.

Pundits split over Ralph Nader’s potential impact on the election. Some, like George Stephanopoulos (ABC’s This Week) and George F. Will (TW) believe that Nader will hurt Al Gore, especially in crucial swing states. But another camp, which includes Cokie Roberts (TW) and Lawrence O’Donnell (TMG), argues that in polls of the most likely election scenario–a four-way race including Pat Buchanan–the gap between George W. Bush and Gore narrows rather than widens. (On MTP, Nader argues that he will draw support not just from Gore’s base but from voters who would otherwise have stayed home.) A third camp thinks that Nader’s appeal will diminish as November nears and left-wing voters realize that a vote for a third party is a vote for Bush.

Buy Microsoft, Mr. Nader!

On MTP, Tim Russert grills Ralph Nader on his million-dollar investment in Cisco stock. Cisco, Russert points out, is arguably a monopolist, and it lobbies for causes to which Nader is opposed, such as visas for foreign computer whizzes and less stockholder influence over company policy. When Nader dodges this question, Russert asks, “But you would criticize a traditional politician for not being more aggressive against corporate America? Why don’t you speak out against Cisco, even though you have these holdings?” Nader responds:


I’ve criticized Silicon Valley, of which Cisco is a part. … And if the public really wants me–instead of just opposing all the bad things that Silicon Valley is doing, in terms of companies, and just naming them occasionally, whether it’s Intel, Cisco, or Microsoft, or whatever–I’ll set up a special task force to monitor Cisco [if I become president].

Wait a minute. Nader holds a million dollars of Cisco stock, yet he thinks the company is worthy of a “special task force”? What’s more, Nader implies an equivalence between Cisco, Intel, and–gasp!--Microsoft, a company he pilloried in these pages  in 1997. Pundit Central makes this accusation lightly, as he recognizes that Nader gives most of his income away and is more open about his finances than any other candidate. Still, Nader says he donates his Cisco profits to his consumer groups, apparently without qualms. Why not Microsoft profits? With the stock as depressed as it is, now’s a great time to buy, Mr. Nader!

Thanks but No Thanks, Ken Starr

In the political process it is difficult for a prosecutor to make nonpartisan calls–which I think the country should come to expect–and I think some damage has been done.
–Robert Ray (MTP), alluding to his predecessor as independent counsel

Last Word

TIM RUSSERT (MTP): Bottom line–it wouldn’t bother you if your presence in this presidential race elected George W. Bush?

RALPH NADER: Not at all. I mean, you’re dealing with Democratic do-littles and Republican do-nothings, and that’s just not enough for the American people.